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August 1 2008 | UNITED STATES


The Alabama Supreme Court stayed the execution of Thomas Arthur (see urgent appeal).

printable version

The Birmingham News

ALABAMA - Say of impending execution

A needed reprieve
The Alabama Supreme Court blocked today's execution of Thomas Arthur, and thank goodness for that.
Start with the fact another inmate this week claimed he committed the murder that sent Arthur to death row. Add to it the fact, disclosed just Wednesday, that state prosecutors can't find some of the evidence which could be used to prove or disprove the belated confession.
As such, on Wednesday the Supreme Court voted to delay Arthur's execution, at least for the time being.
Let's hope the court's 5-4 ruling allows lawyers time to get to the bottom of a sworn statement issued this week by Bobby Ray Gilbert, a convicted killer now housed in the St. Clair Correctional Facility. In it, Gilbert claims he, not Arthur, shot Troy Wicker to death in 1982 at the behest of Wicker's wife, Judy. Mrs. Wicker initially had claimed an intruder raped her and killed her husband. She implicated Arthur after making a deal with prosecutors to get out of prison. She insists that is the truth and says Gilbert is lying.
No doubt, Gilbert's story merits skepticism. But it would have been outrageous to kill Arthur if Gilbert's story could possibly be true.
Unfortunately, prosecutors revealed Wednesday they can't produce some of the crime scene evidence that could prove whether at least part of Gilbert's story is true.
Clay Crenshaw, the head of the attorney general's death penalty office, said in a sworn statement he hasn't been able to locate the rape kit collected from Mrs. Wicker the day of the murder - a rape kit that state records show included both semen and saliva.
Which is just great. Although other biological evidence was collected and should be DNA-tested - assuming the state can find it - it's beyond troubling to think the state was prepared to execute Arthur when what could be crucial evidence is nowhere to be found.
DNA tests could have and should have been conducted, even without Gilbert's confession. It's not that we're convinced Arthur is not guilty. It's that we believe the state must be certain he is guilty before putting him to death.
Gilbert's statement raises questions that must be answered before an execution takes place. So does the issue of missing evidence.
Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb and Justices Champ Lyons, Tom Woodall, Patti Smith and Glenn Murdock deserve credit for demanding the questions be answered before Arthur's execution takes place.
As Alabama State Bar President Mark White said in a statement praising the judges: "Our system of justice must find a way to avoid the situation where DNA exonerates a person after execution."
Amen to that.
An execution can't be undone. The state can't afford to get it wrong. Wednesday's ruling got it right.

Associated Press

Alabama Supreme Court stays man's execution for 3rd time;
 defense wants look at DNA evidence

The Alabama Supreme Court postponed executing a man after an inmate claimed in an sworn statement to defense attorneys that he committed the murder that sent the condemned man to death row.
The justices in a 5-4 vote late Wednesday stopped the execution by injection of Thomas Arthur "pending further orders of this Court." Arthur, 66, was scheduled to die Thursday, more than 26 years after he was convicted of killing Troy Wicker Jr. of Muscle Shoals.
It was the 3rd time Arthur received a stay on the eve of his execution.
"My reaction is we finally look forward to the opportunity to examine fully Mr. Arthur's claim of innocence by assessing witness testimony and DNA evidence," said defense attorney Suhana S. Han. "That is the right result."
State Attorney General Troy King called the stay a serious setback for the prosecution.
"The crimes against Troy Wicker's family continue to compound," he said. "There is a good chance he is going to escape his sentence before all is said and done."
Han said Arthur "was absolutely ecstatic."
"Having to face execution is something that most of us can never really imagine," she said.
Arthur's attorneys sought a stay from the governor and the courts by using Monday's sworn statement by Bobby Ray Gilbert, who claimed he killed Wicker. Gilbert is serving a life sentence for a different murder.
But Wicker's widow, who served 10 years of a life sentence for hiring the killer, told attorney general investigators that she never met Gilbert.
"I hired and paid money to Thomas Arthur, not Bobby Gilbert, to kill Troy Wicker," Judy Wicker said in a statement Monday.
Han said a hearing was needed to assess the credibility of Gilbert and Wicker.
Arthur's daughter, Sherri Stone, said she was in shock after spending most of what she thought was one of her last days with her father at the prison.
"I hope to finally end this; hope to finally prove the innocence that he's claimed for 26 years," she said.
The Alabama Supreme Court and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals earlier denied Arthur's bid to delay the execution so that DNA testing could be done. Arthur's execution would have been the 1st in Alabama since the U.S. Supreme Court, in April, upheld the use of lethal injection.

Tuscaloosa News

The Alabama Supreme Court has stayed the Thursday execution of Tommy

The Alabama Supreme Court today 5-4 stayed Thursday'sscheduled execution of Thomas Douglas Arthur after an alleged confession surfaced this week by another man currently serving life in prison for an unrelated murder.
The court narrowly granted the emergency stay of execution requested byArthur's attorney, Suhan Han, this afternoon.
"I'm just elated, I'm in tears," said Arthur"s daughter, Sherrie Stone, after visiting her father to say their goodbyes.
It is the 3rd time that Arthur has come within hours of dying for the 1982 contract killing of Troy Wicker Jr. of Muscle Shoals.
The 9-member court gave no reason for staying the execution.
It is therefore ordered that the order of this court of June 30 setting an execution date of (Thursday) for Thomas Douglas Arthur is stayed pending further orders of this court, the order said.
Voting for the stay were Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, and justices Champ Lyons, Tom Woodall, Patricia M. Smith, and Glenn Murdock. Dissenting were Justices Harold See, Lyn Stuart, Michael Bolin and Tom Parker.
Arthur was scheduled to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m. Thursday but an inmate in St. Clair prison said this week that he, not Arthur, killed Wicker 26 years ago.

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